Archive for the ‘Brand Promise’ Category
Minnesota Theology of Place: Live Performance Matters in the Twin Cities
If one were rooting around trying to sort what values and practices make a place unique, music would be a good start. Jon Bream, music critic for the StarTribune recently wrote about why Minneapolis/St. Paul has become a home away from home for many rising musical stars. Bream cited four very different artists/bands (Dawes, Brandi Carlisle, Eric Hutchinson and JD McPherson) and noted how audience turn-out in the Twin Cities fuels these artists. Mr. Bream commented:
The key factors are open-minded audiences who love live music; a variety of venues that help artists build a career, and support from radio and other media.
The Current, of course, is a vocal apologist for the new music that grows outside the mainstream (and often, eventually, moves mainstream). I would argue the Cedar Cultural Center has been doing that same good work for years and years. Then there are the high profile, historied venues like First Avenue that have helped audiences and artists form connections. There are many more, of course.
A few days back I wondered aloud what a theology of place might look like for Minnesota. I cited all sorts of influences that would speak to that question. Developing a theology of place is to look at a community from a perspective unfamiliar to most of us. It is a perspective that begins with a commitment to belief in God and then wonders what God is doing in that place, among those people, through their history. It’s a deeply rooted sort of activity: digging down and back to find out who did what and asking what they thought when they did it. And then asking how what they did affected others. And also asking how their belief structure enabled the outcomes before us.
To be intensely local for a moment, what would a theology of place look like for the Twin Cities—just starting with music? Bream’s observation of how audiences love live music fits with the general interest in theater in the cities. Apart from the Guthrie, there are dozens of small theaters in the cities that are producing memorable performances. Does a population that welcomes new music and new artists and helps support dozens of very small theaters mean we like the notion of “live performance” and see it as a way to connect with each other? Maybe we like to see our meaning made right before us—because we know that an audience is part of the meaning making.
Maybe the notion of a fondness for live performance accounts for the 20,000 people who showed up in St. Paul’s Lowertown last weekend for Northern Spark. And maybe our love for live performance accounts for the bike and craft beer cultures that are all about connecting (this year’s Artcrank pulled in an overflowing crowd).
Not that we’re unique in these things—but there’s something happening. As a curious person and one with belief in God, I cannot help but wonder what it means—even as I rejoice in the vibrant commitment to connection.
Herzog & Morris & Searching for Sugar Man
The politburo of Kirkistan recently made its way through two documentaries. One paved the way to fully appreciate the other.
In Capturing Reality: The Art of Documentary, Director Pepita Ferrari set documentarians Errol Morris, Werner Herzog and others in front of the camera to show and tell how their work is entirely biased toward telling their story.
Why would anyone expect otherwise?
Except there is something about the documentary form that shouts “objective”—which turns out to be a profound misdirect. Some documentarians are not above setting up and staging shots in their passion for telling their story. This should surprise no one. And it is neither wrong nor a misrepresentation—depending on how the documentary is billed. As always: caveat emptor. And this: sometimes the story is true though not all the parts actually happened. Fiction writers lead with this all the time (the preface to Tim O’Brien’s The Things They Carried comes to mind).
Ferrari’s film was a perfect set-up for Searching for Sugar Man. This is an unbelievable tale of a washed out 70’s era Motor City singer/songwriter who helped foment revolution in South Africa—but who never knew it. This film exhibits breathtaking storytelling, with the paradox gripping you from the first scenes. It’s also a history lesson in how apartheid fell. I won’t give away the end except to say it is one of the sweetest stories I’ve heard in a long time.
How about taking in a documentary this weekend?
Honesty as a marketing technique? Nah—that’ll never catch on.
They say desperate times call for desperate measures. That might explain why when some wiseacre proposed honesty as a communication tool, the JC Penney marketing honchos bit.
The result is memorable.
Comedy moving toward reality on a wall in Smithfield, Ireland
Messaging that Walks Then Talks
I’m not a Roman Catholic sort of guy, still I find myself drawn to the early descriptions of this tango-driven, Argentinian man-for-the-poor Pope. His actions—catching a crowded mini-van to dinner, hoisting his luggage while paying his hotel bill, crowding into elevators and stairways with everyone else—illustrate some new thing. This new thing looks closer to people and sympathetic rather than distant, academic (in the fusty, out-of-touch sense) and authority-driven. The Roman Catholic Church remains an immense hierarchy with all sorts of problems, but this new thing looks positive.
I like that he wants the organization to get back to evangelism. That seems like he is peering into the right well, looking back at the roots. If he had asked me about repositioning the church (still waiting for the call), I could point in no better direction.
Of course, all sorts of bad, coercive, manipulative, openly evil things have been done under the guise of evangelism. But at its best—and it gets hard to strip away the muck accumulated over centuries—Christ’s message of redemption carried by people who are themselves changed, is transformative.
So. Bravo for pointing back to the roots, Pope Francis.
Not page hits or likes, though comments get closer to true engagement
Anybody who has tried to communicate a message knows it takes time, effort and budget. Or if not budget, patience and persistence. But budget helps.
Our writers know this. Louise Erdrich in a recent talk at Concordia University about her National Book Award-winning “The Roundhouse” talked about how she incorporated themes that were important to her in a way that would still be read by readers:
“As a writer, I want to get this message across. But I’ll only do it if it is a suspense novel. I wanted to make a book that you could not put down.”
“And then I would stuff in the jurisdictional legal issues like spinach in a sandwich.”
Spinach stuffed in so you hardly realize it’s there. To get her message across, she had to write a story so compelling that a reader would willingly read on.
Today we talk constantly about apps and software and sites and techniques that allow a brand to engage with consumers. Paul Dunay writing for Forbes wonders if engagement advertising is the future of brand advertising. He thinks we are approaching a fundamental shift in brands talking with, not just at consumers. Dunay named innovative companies already pursuing dialogue over monologue using mobile platforms. Of course, we’ve been thinking about dialogue over monologue for quite a few years, but just now we’re starting to see technology that enables monologue with more ease and simplicity.
But it’s more than technology, of course. It is a firm’s willingness to listen. Listening is on the uptick. Listening is the new thing (which is so absurd it makes me laugh). It’s new because companies realize they left money on the table by constant monologue.
But getting people to care about the stuff you think is important: it’s the writer’s problem. It’s the brand’s problem. Both want to engage to such an extent that one actually takes action. Erdrich wants her readers to do something. Dunay wants to make it easier for all of us to buy the stuff we are thinking of right now.
I argue engagement takes a lifetime.
No brand manager wants to hear this, but writers in it for the long haul know this instinctively. They know they have to write to engage and inform, but engagement comes first. Teachers know this as well. Brands and their managers have yet to learn this. That’s because most engagement strategies still put the brand first, not what’s best for the consumer (though consumer need and desire rank high in engagement messaging). Those brands that have begun to succeed are learning to well, shut up and stuff the spinach inside.
Is Your Message Mind-Ready?
- North Korea threatens to turn Washington and Seoul each into a “sea of flames” with “lighter and smaller nukes.”
- Dennis Rodman says Kim Jong Un is a “great guy.”
Sometimes our words create a believability gap. You can see the believability gap between words spoken and the possible results. You can also see the believability gap between the words spoken and the credibility of the speaker. The two bulleted statements above both suffer results- and credibility-deficits, so we don’t believe.
Personally and corporately, we know that we have to speak and communicate in ways that build credibility. That usually means not over-promising. And it means delivering on the few promises we do make. Most of us understand this, even if we don’t always practice it perfectly.
Closing the believability gap involves looking inside (again, personally and corporately) to identify those skills, motivations and insights that can support the results we want our friends, clients and customers to know us for. Sometimes that look inside shows us we’ve been emphasizing the wrong things to the wrong people. It takes courage to step away from a wrong-headed direction, especially when that wrong-way seems to work, for the moment.
Making our messages mind-ready means making sure we have the skills, values, motivations, insights and practices to carry out what we say. Mind-ready messages are credible and result-oriented. People see through bluff and bluster.
But that doesn’t mean we should take threats from North Korea lightly. I guess we’re back to pouring food into their corrupt system again. And Rodman? Let’s make sure he always negotiates when traveling with the Harlem Globetrotters.
Is Deeper than You’d Think—Especially for Those Outside Your Tribe
I try to help clients understand the limits of their messaging. After we get past the glory of the features (many would stop there and pronounce their marketing “Done!”), we get to benefits. That’s a good place to hang because we are facing outward: how this product/service will help their customer accomplish X. For my medical device clients, after getting beyond the glory of the features, our conversation turns to the benefit promises that can ring true and still be within the legal and regulatory parameters, and still be within what the journal articles support. And still make emotional sense to their intended customer.
Beyond benefits and features, a message is believable because it comes from a much deeper place of fit and truth. A message becomes believable when it suddenly snaps in place with the other factors we already know. The best copywriting does this: it offers words (really ideas) that help place the benefit message into a frame that suddenly makes all sorts of sense.
That snap is why we believe anything. Words “ring true” when we see how they fit our context, where we live. So when we want someone to believe us, we find ourselves building out the context so they can see how and why this idea fits. This is time-consuming when you are talking with someone from outside your tribe, because they don’t see things the way you see them. They have not been inculcated in your doctrine of how we see things around here.
I guess that’s why it’s easier to mostly hide in my tribe.